‘Run to the Fire': Career Advice from Top Agency Execs

Getting ahead in the digital media and ad world isn’t easy; it’s competitive, it’s cutthroat, and it’s demanding. With that in mind, Digiday is reaching out those at the top of the industry to see what career advice they have for those staffers lower in the ranks. This is the advice some senior agency execs gave:

Tom Bedecarre, Chairman, AKQA
One of the fastest ways to succeed in advertising is to learn your client’s business. Understand their customers’ needs and preferences. Go on sales calls and factory floor visits. Become the most knowledgeable person at the agency on their products and services. Investigate competitive brands and competitive advertising. Do store checks. Read everything you can about your client’s company and their industry. That’s how a junior staffer can make themselves an invaluable member of a client team.

Cindy Gallop, founder, IfWeRanTheWorld, former president, BBH US
My response to anyone asking “‘What is your advice to a young person going into advertising?” is: “Don’t.” What I mean by that is, don’t go into advertising to “go into advertising.” Go into advertising to make what you want to happen, happen. You bring a completely fresh, objective perspective to what our industry does (and our industry does not listen enough to the newest people in it). Decide what you want the future of advertising to be, and then make it happen — whether that’s within the agency lucky enough to employ you or when you start your own venture within the industry that’s lucky enough to have you want to reinvent it.

John Montgomery, COO, GroupM Interaction
Always put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Many of the brands that you work on won’t be in your purchasing repertoire. It doesn’t matter if you are a media planner, a data strategist, or a creative, ideas drive success — especially brave, risky ones. Clients don’t hire us to deliver reports; they hire us for our point of view. Take some risks. Most companies won’t fire you if you fail, as long as you fail forward. It’s also a good idea to find a mentor in the organization that you can tap for wisdom and support, and take stock of your job every now and again. If you aren’t having fun and learning at least part of the time you should consider a change. You don’t have to be a math graduate to work in digital, but you do need to make a big effort to understand data to succeed in the new environment. Learn the value of data for the insights that it can bring — the interpretation is every bit as important as the math. Keep on asking, “So what does this data teach me?”

Andrew Essex, CEO, Droga5
This industry can sometimes envelope people in a bubble. Ensure you’re informed outside of your daily frame of reference. Always stay aware of what’s happening in adjacent industries, and embrace curiosity.

Andreas Combuechen, CEO, Atmosphere Proximity
Always run towards the fire and help out. Don’t be afraid to fail spectacularly, and develop the ability to pick yourself up quickly when you do.

Rob Norman, chief digital officer, GroupM
Based on my experience, I would have four pieces of advice for those just starting out in this business today, and the first is to learn statistics. The second is to read: Read books about anything other than business guru bullshit and “50 Shades of Grey.” Third, look at every task you do with the aim of making it 10 percent quicker and 10 percent more valuable. And fourth, ensure you talk to the consumers of every brand you work on. You should understand how they live and choose; context is everything.

Image courtesy Noel Reynolds